Korean giant LG has been upsetting the apple cart for some time now by offering impressive flat-panel and DLP displays at industry-shaking prices. I recently reviewed an LG flat-panel LCD set (TPV, Issue 60) that was quite good, as well as a 52” rear-projection DLP set for AVguide Monthly (Issue 6) that was very impressive. Make no mistake: LG is a very capable company with some impressive technology to offer. But whether it had to make technological compromises to offer a 42” full-featured plasma TV at a retail list price of $3799—with both reps and dealers getting a small piece of the pie—remained to be seen.
The DU-42PX12X, though just a bit slack in connectivity compared to the Dell, has everything most people need in the input department except two digital (HDMI or DVI) video inputs. (Like the V, Inc., it has one DVI input— HDCP-compliant) Of course, for most people, this won't really be an issue since two component inputs are also available. Analog and digital HD tuners (over-the-air only, no CableCARD) are included, along with various picture-inpicture modes. For PIP, a computer (RGB input) can be used simultaneously with analog sources but not with high-resolution sources. The remote is fully lit, well laid out, and can be programmed to operate five other components. Additional buttons are hidden under a sliding door at the bottom to keep the clutter down. An extremely useful control is the SIGNAL button, which allows you to evaluate the signal quality from digital over-the-air (OTA) stations and tune the antenna (an extremely important feature for DTV reception that's missing from the Dell). But LG forgot the SLEEP button! Stereo speakers are permanently mounted to each side of the panel and the screen is surrounded by silver trim. The owner's manual is easy to follow, though some of its explanations of features are vague.
The LG's on-screen menu system reveals some unusual features. VIDEO, which has separate picture adjustment memories for each source, contains the usual factory presets plus userpreference picture controls, but also includes a switch for LG's XD engine, said to include six different processes to "take low resolution analog signals to near-HD levels by improving brightness, contrast, detail, and enhancing color as well as reducing signal noise." (I spend some time evaluating this feature later.) The SOUND menu also has presets with manual override that adjust the various audio features and controls, along with a compressor (EZ SOUNDRITE) for leveling out loud passages or commercials. Like the Dell, the LG has SRS for simulated surround but also includes additional audio enhancements (including BBE for enhanced clarity). The TIME menu deals with a very complete on/off timer, sleep timer, and auto-off-when-no-signal- detected feature. The OPTION menu contains some of the most complete closed-caption capability I've seen, along with the most comprehensive set of tools I've yet seen for preventing and repairing screen burn. A LOW POWER mode, which should also help guard against screen burn, is available to reduce power consumption and lower light output when extra brightness is not needed.
In features, the LG gets high marks for its computer and OTA HD capabilities (including that important SIGNAL button on the remote), its audio processing, its timers, and its excellent tools to prevent and repair screen burn. It loses a few points for having only one DVI or HDMI input, no CableCARD HD tuner, and no SLEEP button on the remote.
V, Inc., like Gateway, was among the very first companies to offer a low-cost enhanced-definition plasma TV (reviewed in TPV, Issue 50). It was also first with a DVI-equipped DVD player (the Bravo D1) that could upconvert DVDs to any of the current HD scan rates. Even now, with the larger companies offering extremely expensive DVI and HDMI players, Shane Buettner, Video Editor, The Perfect Vision, concluded in his DVD player survey (TPV, Issue 60) that the inexpensive ($250) Bravo D2 continues to more than hold its own in picture quality. The "V" could well stand for "Value!" And now, for just $2499 ($1000 less than V, Inc.'s original 46" enhanced-definition plasma), it is offering a full high-definition 42" model with enhanced contrast ratio. V, Inc. employs some of the cost-saving marketing techniques of the computer manufacturers but does sell through Costco, so you can actually audition the VIZIO for yourself and deal with a local reputable discounter. Options include a wall-mount kit.
Connectivity of the VIZIO is much like the LG and less complete than the Dell, with one (HDCP-compatible) DVI input, two component video, one RGB (dSub-15 pin), two S- and two composite- video inputs. Unlike the other two sets, the VIZIO only has an analog tuner—no OTA digital HD capability. Of course, many viewers have full overthe- air digital capability built right into their existing satellite boxes (including the VOOM boxes, even if VOOM does go off the air), but if you were to purchase an HD set-top box separately for this set (V, Inc. offers one), you'd likely pay about $350 for it. Still, there's a positive aspect to this omission. Very soon, a new generation of ATSC digital receivers will be available with far better reception capability than what's built into most existing sets—even the most expensive ones. And don't let anyone fool you—reliable digital reception of all major channels with current tuners is far from a sure thing in most metropolitan areas today.